The adventure begins!
We were able to pick up our car the night before and got out the door by 6:30 am on Saturday morning. Our plan was to head to Rheims, France - wander around for a few hours, eat lunch and then on to Oostende, Belgium! Here are the brother travelers - they love to play together (sometimes!).
We made great time and got to Rheims around 10am - of course we had to do the "find a legal parking space" game. The first thing we did upon freedom from the car was simply let the kids run around and blow off steam - that is part of the challenge of being with the kids - we want to go inside the monument and they, well, they, as you can see, want to run around, scream and play on the playground. Yes, that's right, we drove 3 hours and paid the low, low (bargain compared to our Alps trip) price of only 30 Euros in tolls, to see this.
Then we got to go inside the Basilique of St. Remi (the namesake of the town). Don't we ever get tired of these cathedrals? Well, at least for me, no. It had tons of sculptures and I really enjoyed the way the stained glass was on multiple levels at this particular site. Zander was fascinated by the pictures they had of the cathedral during WWI when the entire ceiling had been bombed in. One of the things that makes a deeper impact upon me the more we travel over Europe is the deep impression world wars 1 and 2 have made on the lives and culture of each city. The amount of work and rebuilding each community had to do is beyond measure! One of the two towers of the cathedral had been completely lost and they had to replace it - perhaps you can see the difference in the color of the stone at the far left in the picture with Zander and Andre' in it. It was incredible to see how they had repaired it and we all talked about war and how scary it must have been to live in the city then. There were signs everywhere on buildings in Rheims stating that they were 'restored' meaning they had been damaged in the war years and were now rebuilt.
We realized this cathedral was only on the outskirts of the city and wanted to see some more before heading onward. So we went towards the center of town and lunch - this shot is of Griffin running towards me. He forgot his monkey in the restaurant and had to go back to get it. You know in those cheesy love movies where the separated lovers run towards each other? (usually in some sort of grassy, flowery field?) Well, I never really had that happen to me. But, since I've had children, I've had lots and lots of times when one of my kids sees me from afar and runs, as fast as they can, into my waiting arms. No better feeling in the world. Since they were so good at the (not appetizing - urgh) restaurant, we let them ride the local carousel. It seems most every large town we have visited in France has one. Zander was so happy since he LOVES going super, duper, makes Mommie sick, fast on the spinning cup and, lucky day, no other kids wanted to go on it. They never want to go as fast as him and it ruins it for him. This time he could hardly walk by the end of the ride.
We then walked over toward the next major site and, on the way, passed this amazing clothing store. There are so many cool and funky fashions to be found all over Europe. I mostly avoid shopping (much as I did in the US) since I can't afford retail. (I choose to spend my money traveling, as you can tell!) But this one made me stop and stare for a few minutes. I really thought my sister Melodie would have absolutely loved all the handmade fashions from this boutique. I liked quite a few myself, I didn't take any pictures of those since I thought I'd focus on the more wacky items, but they had such a variety of creative pieces. Of course. only one jacket would have cost more than our week's car rental so, not this time.
Finally we got to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Rheims - it was just an amazing, jaw dropping, awe inspiring sight. I always feel affected when I see these monuments, but it seems even better with the kids. They will, at times, literally stop in their tracks. They then do the shocked stare for a few minutes followed by "LOOK, Mom, LOOK, look at that!" Sometimes this is followed by jumping up and down and yelling. I'll give a little back story for this gem. According to the free brochures, this is one of the most stunning masterpieces of 13th century Gothic art. It is a national shrine where King Clovis was baptized and numerous kings were crowned. There is lots more to say but there were a few things that stood out for me. One is how amazing the stained glass was, much of it had been smashed during the war but some had survived. It seems there are 3900 square metres of glass in the church - of which ONLY 1500 metres squared is still in stained glass. I loved how some of the old stained glass was in place and some new designs had been created in other windows, in particular one by Chagall. It was finished in 1971 and was breathtaking. It is like a suprise around every corner in one of these places. It was also unusual to see that they had placed their organ right underneath one of the rose windows - you can get a sense of the immensity of the organ by seeing the people walking down below. Pictures of these sites simply can not do them even a bit of justice. The other fascinating fact about Our Lady of Rheims is that this is the church where in 1429, King Charles the seventh was crowned in the prescence of none other than Joan of Arc. That's right, (as Callie would say) for real live life! She had a shrine in the chapel as well. Joan of Arc is a big deal in France and I've always admired her and respected her. My favorite Philly statue is of the golden Joan on the Ben Franklin Parkway near the Art Museum. My kids know it too. Whenever we drive by we say "Hi Joan!" It was fun to tell them this was where she really truly was.
Since the kings were coronated in Rheims, their was a palace right next door. Here are King Zander and Queen Callie posing on the royal stairway of the Palais du Tau.
Finally we headed back to the car. On the way we passed a few interesting buildings. Our camera is always full of shots of interesting things that we don't know what the heck they are. But they sure don't look anything like life in the USA! We also saw this giant obelisk topped by a fairy (what do you mean, it's an angel? My kids vote fairy).
Then onward to Oostende making it by about 7:30pm to get the keys. Our new home is quite large - it has 2 bedrooms, kitchen, living room, dining room, bathroom and even a large porch. The kids were so excited to have so much room! It is also right above a bowling alley, which is a bit loud! Andre' went to find a place to park and I fed the kids and got them into bed. He had a terrible time finding a place and didn't get home for almost an hour - but it gave me time to unpack us and settle us all in. Tomorrow we are planning to rest and explore a bit in our new town.